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Every day when I commute from my Kaneohe home to my job at Leeward Community College in Pearl City, I drive along Likelike Highway through Kalihi Valley. My recent fascination with hiking has prompted me to gaze up with increasing frequency at the high peaks along the two ridges that straddle the valley. "I wish I were up there," I find myself repeating silently over and over as if my words could transport me to those beautiful yet rugged high hills.
The kokohead-side ridge rises up to the massive peak called Lanihuli (elevation 2,770 ft.), which can be reached via rugged hikes starting at trailheads at either the Kamehameha Schools or at the top of Alewa Heights Drive. The ewa-side ridge extends from the foothills behind Fort Shafter to a pinnacle point named Pu'u Kahuauli (elevation 2,740 ft.).
Although I fell short of my goal, I made my first push toward Kahuauli on a recent muggy, overcast Friday afternoon along the Bowman Trail. The trailhead can be reached two ways. The first is via Radar Hill Road which starts at Fort Shafter and ascends the mountain above the Kalihi Valley Homes Housing Complex. The road is paved at the beginning, semi-paved higher up, and dirt and steep as the end nears. The second route, which I opted for, begins behind Kalihi Elementary School, which is nestled along the base of the ewa-side ridge near the first overpass in lower Kalihi Valley.
I parked and locked my vehicle, wondering if it would still be there when I returned (Kalihi Valley, as most locals know, is not the best place to leave a car unattended). A 30-ish Filipino man and his two young children gleefully dashed about in the community park adjacent to school oblivious to the burly figure striding slowly up Halina Street. "This place can't be that bad," I told myself.
To get to the actual trailhead of Bowman, I had to ascend steeply along an access trail that begins directly mauka of a run-down basketball court in the back of the elementary school. The hillside there was littered with shattered beer bottles, and gang-related graffiti was spray-painted on rockfaces where the trail began. Pictures of teen hoodlums hot-wiring and driving off with my car flashed in my mind's eye. "That's what comprehensive insurance is for," I rationalized.
My fears for my vehicle diminished as my attention turned to the challenging task of getting my aching body (I had taken a nasty fall in a pickup basketball game the day before) to the top of the ridge. After scaling a low-lying retaining wall, I puffed up the mountain, negotiating some exposed rocky sections along an unmarked but distinct trail. After climbing for about 15 minutes, I reached a level point where I could scan the valley below. My car was still there. "Hallelujah," I thought.
I ventured forward, passing through an ironwood grove and reaching a junction with a dirt road that stretched makai-to-mauka. I turned mauka up the red-dirt road, which was steep and heavily rutted with eroded run-off gullies. A couple sets of truck tracks on the road appeared fairly fresh and I wondered how often anyone drove around up there.
After following the road for another 10 minutes or so, I arrived at a second junction with another dirt avenue that headed downslope toward Fort Shafter to my left and further up the ridgeline to my right. I continued mauka.
After about an eighth of a mile, I was startled when I rounded a curve in the road and a fairly large-sized ehu-colored dog (it looked to me like a bloodhound but without the loose skin) appeared about 20 yards from me. Probably as stunned to see me as I it, the pooch bounded off into the thick foliage along the roadside.
I hustled onward, hoping that the canine wasn't summoning its friends and ohana to come chase me down. Just in case, I grabbed a tree broken tree branch I found alongside the road to use as a walking-stick/epee in case the pooch or some of its friends decided to let me know whose territory this was.
The road steepened and eventually leveled-off at the point where the Bowman Trail officially begins. At that point is an old concrete structure about 15 feet by 15 feet in size. Now weathered and graffiti-marked, the structure may have been a military storage hut at some point in the past.
I looked at my watch and calculated that I had reached this point about 45 minutes after I had begun. Not intending to head all the way to the summit because I had started late (11:30 a.m.), the hike was long (six rugged miles to the top), and I was alone (Bowman is not the type of trail to attempt solo), I told myself I'd hike up the trail for about 20 minutes or so and then retreat.
Thick strawberry guava forests lined the initial section of the trail. Underfoot, the soft turf oozed with fallen red and yellow fruits. Along the way, several pig trails skirted off down both sides of the ridgeline. I also saw wallows on the side of the main trail where pigs had been rooting. On the dozens of hikes I've been on, not once have I encountered a porky-one. I hoped that my first meeting wouldn't be on that day.
Nearing the 20-minute turnaround point I had set, I reached a clearing with an unobstructed view of the ridgeline all the way up to the then cloud-enshrouded Pu'u Kahuauli. In the valley below, Likelike Highway cut a swath through a thick forest of trees as if a giant had traced a line through it with one stroke of his massive finger.
My bright-orange mesh shirt was perspiration-soaked, a result of the enervating humidity and temperatures in the low 90s. I clicked off some photos of the amazing scenery around me: of Kahuauli about three miles distant, of Likelike below, and of Lanihuli and the ridge extending to it.
I gazed up the valley longingly, making a pact with myself to return to see the trail to its end some day. With the sound of cars and trucks rumbling up and down Likelike echoing below me, I retraced my steps makai without being troubled by scavenging swines, territorial canines, or auto-absconding humans.